Commentary

Rep. Pricey Harrison: Coal ash is poisoning our democracy as well as our people

Pricey HarrisonIn case you missed it, North Carolina State Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County has a great new essay up on the Huffington Post about the connections between North Carolina’s frightening coal ash mess and the state’s polluted, pay-to-play political culture.

This from “The Coal Ash Money Train — North Carolina’s Poisoned Democracy”:

“Normally, citizens could seek a remedy in the courts when state governments do not adequately regulate coal ash. Yet in North Carolina, that’s become increasingly difficult given the pay-to-play system that has replaced the innovative public financing program for judicial candidates – a program that Governor Pat McCrory eliminated in his first few months in office. Without public financing, judicial candidates must turn to deep-pocketed donors for the money needed to mount a successful campaign. Those private donors in turn may see favorable decisions in court.

We shouldn’t be surprised to find that Governor McCrory–a Duke executive for 28 years–has conveniently failed to enforce environmental regulations and is under federal investigation for doing so. Corporate polluters have spent big to elect legislators in North Carolina. We can expect that, when it comes to coal ash, Gov. McCrory will yield to his corporate ties and neglect to defend the health of North Carolinians, especially the poorest among us.

The Charlotte Observer recently editorialized on the state’s distorted regulatory focus, writing that the disaster in Flint is “a cautionary tale for public officials and the citizens they serve” and that it should “resonate in states like North Carolina, where the regulatory focus has too often shifted away from protecting residents to accommodating business and industry.” The state agencies that are supposed to protect our water have too often focused on satisfying industry.

It’s clear that when corporate dollars pervade the government systems built to protect the public, we can no longer count on government to do its job and look after its most vulnerable communities.”

Click here to read the entire post.

Commentary

African-American pastor’s op-ed should be “must read” for McCrory, Berger and Moore

There’s a great op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer that stands in stark contrast to the ignorant and bigoted statements issued of late by state conservative leaders on the rights of transgender persons. According to Governor McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, transgender person do not exist; they are merely men pretending to be women and women pretending to be men.

You’d think that by 2016, the three men would have paid enough attention to the modern world and popular culture to have been dispelled of such absurd and ill-informed beliefs, but sadly, as we have seen in recent weeks, this is not the case.

Let’s hope that this morning, one or more of them, sets aside their blinders for a few minutes and reads an essay on the subject by the Rev. Terence K. Leathers, an Apex pastor. As Leathers notes in “The ‘Beloved Community’ includes transgender people”:

“There is a disturbing trend rapidly moving across this nation at an unparalleled and fevered pitch. It is based on hatred, soaked in prejudice and clothed in intolerance.

At rallies and other political gatherings, people are encouraged to act on their fears and ignorance regarding others who are different. Certainly, the current political climate fuels the spewing of mean-spirited rhetoric and sadly physical attacks as we engage in what is intended to be a democratic process.

As a straight African-American minister and pastor, I am concerned by what I consider a crisis. When did we become so uncomfortable with and even hostile to difference? I’m sure that many in the straight community are unaware of and some perhaps unconcerned about the plight of those considered different and non-conformist, those whose sexuality and gender identity or expression isn’t what we’re used to or even acknowledge.”

Leathers goes on to conclude this way: Read more

Commentary

Editorial: McCrory out of excuses on Medicaid expansion

There is plenty of room for argument as to whether the state Medicaid system was ever “broken” as claimed by some and why expenditures are now down, but there is one thing this development says for certain: Gov. Pat McCrory is out of excuses for not expanding the program to cover hundreds of thousands of the uninsured.

This morning’s lead editorial in the Fayetteville Observer explains:

[U]nlike some of his GOP brethren in the General Assembly, Gov. Pat McCrory wasn’t an ideologue about [Medicaid expansion]. It was clear that he saw the benefits of an expansion, which mostly would be funded by Washington. Without it, hospitals would face greater financial pressures, and the ‘working poor’ would continue to show up at emergency rooms for medical care because they still couldn’t afford health insurance.

McCrory took a pragmatic approach. Medicaid in North Carolina, he said, was a ‘mess’; it was ‘broken.’ It was all of that, with annual cost overruns in the hundreds of millions. It was hard to justify expanding a broken system and growing those deficits any further.

But the system isn’t broken anymore. It’s under control. As of the end of December, the governor announced in a press release last month, Medicaid was $181 million under budget. Yes, under budget by the same kind of numbers that it once exceeded its budget….

With that accomplished, McCrory’s only good objection to Medicaid expansion is gone. So are his precedents: many of his fellow Republican governors. That includes Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the last GOP presidential candidates still standing. Kasich, a pragmatist, ran the numbers and saw Medicaid expansion creating new jobs, keeping hospitals afloat and, of course, making people in his state healthier.

He took advantage of federal flexibility and designed a Medicaid program that fit his and his party’s conservative principles.

It’s time to do that here. Medicaid expansion will save lives and improve many more. It will save endangered hospitals from shutting down. And it will create thousands of new jobs in the health care industry.”

Commentary, News

The coal ash mess: Three “must reads” plus a powerful video

Coal ash clean upSeveral important items of note in the coal ash world this morning:

#1 – The Wilmington Star News reports that Duke Energy has begun moving with what one might describe as “all deliberate speed” (emphasis on deliberate) to remove more than seven million tons of coal ash from just one of its numerous dumps across the state — this one in New Hanover County. In the four-plus months since the removal commenced, 82,000 tons have been moved or roughly 1% of all that needs to come out. It is a testament to the massive nature of the problem and the absurd inaction by Duke and state regulators that things are this bad.

#2 -The Fayetteville Observer reports that the city of Sanford is treating coal ash liquid (“leachate”) in its wastewater treatment plant and then discharging it (along, potentially, with nasty heavy metals) into the Deep River — something that, understandably, worries some environmental advocates.

#3 – Meanwhile, Gov. Pat “Standing in the bathroom door” McCrory continues to mostly ignore the problem. This new and powerful video from the good folks at Progress NC features a woman who lives near a coal ash dump and must now live on bottled water — apparently in perpetuity.  Not surprisingly, the Guv hasn’t responded to her requests for a meeting.

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#4 – Finally, the League of Conservation Voters reports that NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hearings on the handling of coal ash from Duke Energy’s multiple ash pits around the state begin tonight at simultaneous events in Asheville, Dallas (Gaston County), Eden (Rockingham County), and Wilmington. This is from the LCV’s Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

Each of the hearings begins at 6:00pm. Concerned members of the public are encouraged to attend. Those who wish to speak should show up early in order to sign up.

Citizen conservation groups are working to turn out concerned citizens at all the hearings, and are planning a news conference at 5:30pm at the Gaston County hearing site in the town of Dallas. Members of the concerned public are invited to appear for the advance news event as well. The Dallas hearing will particularly address the Riverbend Steam Station, and will be held in the Gaston College Myers Center Auditorium (201 Highway U.S. 321 South, Dallas, NC 28034).

The planned message from citizen conservationists will emphasize that all of Duke’s unlined, leaking coal ash sites across North Carolina are high risk and should be cleaned up by moving the toxic coal ash to dry, lined storage away from rivers and groundwater. The communities and people of our state deserve to have clean water, protected from the threat of toxic coal ash pollution.

None of the sites are in fact “low risk” and they cannot safely be capped and left in place to continuing seeping into our water supplies. More than 200 seeps from Duke’s coal ash pits collectively send about three million gallons a day into our waters. It is past time for DEQ to order swift cleanup of these continuing pollution sources.

The other three March 1 sites are

  • Asheville: AB Technical Community College Ferguson Auditorium, 340 Victoria Road, Asheville NC 28801
  • Eden: Eden Town Hall, 308 East Stadium Drive, Eden NC 27288
  • Wilmington: Cape Fear Community College, room N-202, 411 N. Front Street, Wilmington NC 28401.

Eleven additional hearings will follow in future weeks, between March 10 and March 29.

Commentary

“Nonpartisan” Pope-Civitas Institute hosts select candidates at conference in the midst of primary election

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory

Gov. Pat McCrory

Dan Forest

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

Ted and Heidi Cruz - Image: Twitter.com

Ted and Heidi Cruz – Image: Twitter.com

There’s a lot of wackiness coming to Raleigh this weekend at the Pope-Civitas Institute’s Conservative Leadership Conference. You can check out the whole motley crew of presenters and “can’t miss” sessions by clicking here. Among the obvious “highlights”:

  • Christian Action League boss Mark Harris holding forth on threats to “religious freedom,”
  • Convicted campaign finance law felon Dinesh D’Souza pushing two of his recent books and
  • A session entitled “Dark Money v. Private Philanthropy: How to Keep Your Donations Private and the Left Out of Your Business.”

And, of course, who would want to miss the Saturday night “Liberty on the Lawn Cigar Reception”?

But the sessions that really stand out in the midst of a hotly contested state primary election (early voting starts tomorrow) will be the ones featuring the appearance of two candidates and one surrogate for a candidate — all of whom appear on the primary ballot.

First will come Gov. Pat McCrory at the Friday morning opening breakfast (as an aside, does anyone else think it’s weird that the Governor of the state has to share the podium with three other speakers including the notorious vote suppressor, Hans von Spakovsky?). Then comes a Friday after-lunch session featuring Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. And then on Saturday, the lunch will feature Heidi Cruz — the wife of the presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who has been feverishly crisscrossing the nation as a surrogate for her husband’s campaign.

Notably absent from the schedule: the opponents or spokespersons for the opponents of these candidates.

All of which raises the question of how in the heck a nonpartisan nonprofit pulls this off. At last check, the Pope-Civitas was a 501(c)(3) private foundation that is barred from endorsing candidates for office. One presumes the speakers have been instructed not to make appeals for votes, but given the proximity to the election and the notable absence of opponents, it’s hard to see how the appearances — especially Cruz’s — don’t amount to at least tacit endorsements.